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'Scared Straight' Youths Molested in Texas Prison

On Valentines Day, 1997, fifteen youngsters from a residential treatment center for boys and girls with psychiatric and substance-abuse problems were touring the Eastham Unit prison in Texas as part of a "scared straight" visitation program. Five of the youths later reported they were sexually molested by prisoners during the tour.

The five boys reported that prisoners tried to entice them into their cells and that one prisoner pulled down his pants in front of them. Several prisoners later admitted to this behavior, as well as to fondling the youths through their clothes.

The mother of one of the boys said her son is terrified. "It's been awful, really awful, scary," she said. "He was in fear because he felt he could no longer trust .... These boys were outnumbered by people older and bigger than them."

State prison officials hastily suspended a sergeant and four guards who may have witnessed the incidents but did nothing to prevent the sexual abuse. Larry Todd, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said he thinks the prisoners at the 2,300-person prison near Lovelady, Texas, may have been trying to teach the youths a lesson.

"While we do not allow touching of any kind," Todd told reporters, "this could be a case of overly zealous inmates wanting to demonstrate to juveniles what could happen to them in prison."

Michael Hannah, program director of the treatment center the youths were from, said the center has canceled all future prison visits by juveniles.

Dallas Morning News

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